The creator of Dinosaur Comics is a wise man

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Newsarama recently interviewed Ryan North, author of the hilarious Dinosaur Comics, where he had some pretty interesting things to say about  webcomics, print comics and making money off the web:

Nrama: I’ve been asking more and more creators about how they’re responding to such changes as the iPad in terms of how to increase awareness and monetize their strips, but you were ahead of the game with things like Project Wonderful and OhNoRobot.

So I’m curious — in this mad rush to increase the presence of digital comics, who do you think is doing a better job — the larger print companies trying to expand their presence, or individual creators working with other creators and their fans? What do you see as the biggest advantage a smaller creator might have over a larger, more established company?

North: I’m not that familiar with what the bigger companies are doing, so I guess I can’t really speak to that. I think the biggest advantage smaller creators have is accessibility: if a fan wants to write an iPad app, then you can let him do it, or you can say, “No, I’d rather keep control of that” or you can say “No, I’d rather keep control of that and offer to pay you to do that.”

Complete strangers will help you out, just because they like your comic, and that is basically amazing. I mean, I’m sure there are people who’d love to write a Superman app for DC, but I don’t know if you can just email DC the same way you can email one of us. Maybe you can!

Nrama: Something that also interests me — and this is a bit of a 180 from webcomics — is that while you have this oft-proclaimed death of the newspapers, and death of the funny pages, you have an unprecedented access to older comic strips through changes in printing and format brought on by technology.

You’re seeing Little Nemo and Popeye at their original sizes; you’re seeing comprehensive reprintings of strips like Peanuts; you’re seeing reprints of acclaimed obscurities likeBarnaby and King Aroo. This raises a number of issues — why is the comic strip such a vital form?

What are traditional syndicates missing out on in terms of exploring the potential of the online market? While hardcopy collections of older strips have become a reprint boom, do you feel there’s money being left on the table — or at least potential readers — by not having more comprehensive archives of older and/or defunct strips online?

North: The way most webcomics are set up is that you give the comic away and then sell other things: shirts, collections, etc. I’d love to have the complete run of Little Nemoonline at full size – that would be amazing and gorgeous.

And I’d argue that it’d drive sales to the print collections already out, but you know what? Maybe the syndicates have it one step better, and their plan is to sell the book, and when sales drop, put it all online to sell the book some more. I’d like to think that, but I think it’s such a 180 from where they started out from – where everyone pays for everything – that I’d be really (happily) surprised to see it happen.

I think it would be brilliant to take all those long out-of-print comics they’ve got, put them online as if they’re a webcomic, and see where it goes. There’s really no risk: hosting is almost free, the comics are already owned by the syndicates, and the material would be completely novel to a new generation. But I’m not holding my breath on it happening.

Attention syndicates: Please make this happen.

Nrama: You’re extremely liberal with allowing people to reprint/repost the strips — continuing from the previous questions, do you feel reprint permissions and/or pay/limited archives are something that hurt established “traditional” strips online?

North: Gah. There’s so much that’s going on here that’s wrong (in my opinion) and again, it comes from where you’re starting from. My starting position is that I want my comic to be read. I want it to be read because I’m proud of it, and I know that some readers will love it enough to buy some merchandise and support me, so I do all that I can to get it out there: you can embed it in your sites, share it however you want, whatever.

The other position is “this comic is a product that has taken time and money to create, and cannot be given away”. And if you start from that position, then it’s really hard to let someone embed it on their site without linking back to you. It’s not natural to say “hey, do whatever you want with this!” because all you can see is a lost sale every time the picture is downloaded, no matter how ridiculous that point of view is.

I remember (this has probably changed by now, I hope) that the syndicate sites wouldn’t allow you to embed the image on your own site – in other words, to read Garfield you’d have to actually visit gocomics.com.

I imagine the argument is that every hit is eyeballs for their ads, but when you approach it from my point of view, all you’re doing is putting obstacles between readers and your work, and why would you want to do that? This isn’t artsy pie-in-the-sky optimism: when you give the comic away for free, you want it read because readers are what keep you afloat.

In conclusion: I suppose we’re just approaching it from different angles. I’ve found that putting the comic out there, with complete archives, for free, has been a really awesome way of doing things.

Of course, it also has great nuggets of brilliance like this one:

Nrama: So, we write a lot about superheroes on the site, and you’ve had your musings about the nature of superhero creation recently. What would you calculate are the odds of creating, say, Daredevil or Green Arrow, who have…relatively down-to-earth origins? For that matter, what are the odds of a crossover between two universes occurring forany superheroes? Also, to answer a question I once heard at a Toys R’ Us in 1992, could Vanilla Ice beat Hulk Hogan, or could Hulk Hogan beat the Ninja Turtles?

North: This question is actually twenty questions in one! Breaking it down:

1 – Daredevil you need to be blinded in a car accident, plus you need a radioactive substance that heightens your remaining senses. The odds of being in a car accident in a lifetime are pretty high (1 in 4), but you need to multiply that by the odds of being blinded by it (less likely), times the odds of being exposed to that radioactive substance that gives you superhuman sense, which right now is unfortunately zero. So Daredevil’s out.

2 – Green Arrow was a billionaire who got pushed overboard a boat and found himself on an island, where he trained himself at um, arrows, right? So we’ve got about 1000 billionaires on the planet, and with a 0.001 chance of attempted murder on someone (here I’m assuming the variables are independent and that being a billionaire doesn’t increase/decrease the odds of an attempt being made on your life) we can expect 1 billionaire to have an attempt on his life.

I’m going to assume generously that 100% of billionaires own boats and that 5% of their time is spent on them, so that’s a 5% chance of a billionaire pushed overboard. Unfortunately the odds of surviving being lost at sea are much less, and depend greatly on where you are. But these numbers are still pretty good! I wouldn’t be surprised if a Green Arrow shows up in – oh, the next 100,000 years?

3 – Vanilla Ice could easily be beaten by Hulk Hogan; I’m surprised you’d even ask me this question. This is the part of the interview where I take off the mic and flip the table. It’s so obvious Hogan would win

4 – By the same token, the Ninja Turtles have weapons that can defend against folding chairs with ease. Hulk Hogan would be easily beaten by the Ninja Turtle group, transformed, as they are, from the norm by the nuclear goop.

Check out the rest here, it’s well worth the read.

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One Response to “The creator of Dinosaur Comics is a wise man”

  1. davidry214 Says:

    Interesting read. I was recently given a Kindle as an early birthday present, and was a little disappointed to not see any DC or Marvel comics available for it. I understand the logic that no color would make it less likely to sell well, but Marvel’s Essential volumes (and whatever DC calls its Essential equivalents) have sold well without color. The trick would be formatting to a six-inch screen, but that hardly seems insurmountable.

    I found North’s take on giving away/charging for content particularly fascinating. In law school, my focus has become intellectual property law. As you might expect, North is definitely in the minority of creators who share such liberal views on free online publication. While his ideal scenario of readers viewing his stuff and then supporting him by seeking out and paying for the merchandise does sound great in a a Utopian world, it’s probably not realistic. As a poor comics fan, I like North’s ideas. As an IP Law student, I think a profit incentive gap would be inevitable.

    Now, as to the important stuff: he’s probably right about Daredevil; that scenario is asking a lot. With Green Arrow, however, I think a potential flaw in his reasoning could be that the average billionaire is likely to have more enemies and thus a higher risk of attempted murder. However, any increase in likelihood resulting from that would surely be offset by the need for the billionaire to be in as good of physical shape as Oliver Queen. Thus his conclusion is likely correct anyway.

    Agreed re: Hulk Hogan vs. Vanilla Ice. Odd question. I know Vanilla was big in ’92, but even then, who thought of him as a major physical threat?

    And the Ninja Turtles vs. almost anyone results in Ninja Turtles winning. Equally duh.

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